Work stuff

There was an all-team retro this week in which we talked about remote working, team dynamics and how often we’d like to be in the office when we return. I’ve always wanted to try full-on remote working, so coronavirus has provided that opportunity. But it has shown me that my product management style is one that is energised and sustained on a proximity to people.

Not so much a leader, maybe more of a hypeman. A workplace Bez.

Having said that, I am working on teams that don’t need a product manager, in my opinion, and I’ll say now that I don’t think you should have product teams solely dedicated to technical improvement work. And because they’re related, I don’t think you can have a constant morass of mission teams working hecticly on building things for the sake of building things.

Don’t get me wrong, working on GOV.UK’s Platform Health team was really fun and I think we did well to engage people in maintenance work – which is often uncelebrated and not very well respected compared to user-facing work – but it means that people throw work over the fence, expecting someone else to sort it out. A better model, I feel, is one that causes teams to take ownership of maintenance. We did that on the Search team, committing 20 per cent of sprint work to platform health and technical debt, improving the technical stack and making user-facing feature work more sustainable. Product work and delivering outcomes, not project work and delivering outputs.

Which takes me back to being a product hypeman. You can more effectively plaudit unsexy technical work when it’s shown to unblock the sexy feature work. Calling for teams to devote themselves to technical work isn’t a product manager’s job though, that’s the role that technical leaders fulfil. A PM’s domain ropes together tech, design and the business, we can’t exist in only one of those.


Rosie, a content designer and anti-racist, ran a session on how to talk about race. The workshop was aimed mostly at white people to help us be better allies. Two hundred people attended, which is awesome! We covered

  • what whiteness is, and
  • how to be anti-racist

It was, quite frankly, an incredible display of leadership, leading people through a situation collaboratively, and a much stronger display of leadership than we’ve seen from the executive team on the subject of racism. She didn’t pay lip service to a problem, she created an environment in which we could all confront it, head-on. What a legend.

A note I made:

Taking for granted or denying your white privilege is an act of oppression. You can’t turn it off, but you can leverage it. You can be white without signing on to whiteness. Calling for white culture to be the norm in Western culture, because it always has been, is whiteness. It’s white supremacy.

I spoke some more to the MPA students from UCL who are looking at personalisation. I was surprised to learn that they hadn’t had much engagement with GOV.UK’s senior management team or anyone else at GDS, they’d only had access to two policy managers and the Accounts team. They were also struggling to know what to do next, so I told them to focus on the unique view they can bring to the project: thinking through public value and how to be strategic with personalisation. It’s not about making things easier to find, it’s about making sure that users reach the outcomes they need to. Boring magic, not shiny things.

Not-work things

Running has been going well. Dare I say it, I looked forward to it one morning this week. That’s probably due to the endorphins and how my body is a slave to stimuli, as I’m reducing my alcohol intake at the same time as exercising more. I’m toking on health.

DEVS is a decent show, you should watch it. Alex Garland, the bloke who wrote the excellent The Beach, has created a scintillating thriller about multiple universe theory, quantum computing and simulated reality. It’s v cool. Though a couple of the characters are quite flat, the plot carries it along and the story is a redeeming one. The soundtrack is fantastic too. Bingeable.

That’s it, I haven’t really done anything else, apart from continue to learn Welsh and play our Fate RPG. Might need to find an online community to be part of…